Parshat Vayakhel: Exodus 35:1-38:20; II Kings 12:1-17. (Shabbat Shekalim)

By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Why repeat all the details of the construction of the Mishkan here after we have already heard them when they were initially commanded? Would it not have been simpler to deal with the entire execution of external building, furnishings and priestly garb with the single verse: “And the People of Israel built the Mishkan exactly as God commanded”?

In order to understand the significance of the repetition, it is important to remember that the Almighty desires an intimate relationship between Himself and the people of Israel. That is why they are commanded to build a Mishkan in the first place: “that I may dwell among them.”

However, worshiping the golden calf was a betrayal of the ideals given at Sinai. In effect, the Israelites committed adultery, scarring the love and intimacy God had just bestowed upon them. Since God is also a God of compassion, He forgives. However, can we legitimately expect forgiveness for as heinous a crime as idolatry? Will the Almighty take Israel back even after they have committed adultery?

Herein lies the true significance of the repetition of every painstaking instruction regarding the Mishkan. The repetition is a confirmation that the intimacy between God and Israel has been restored, that the relationship between God and His bride, Israel, has returned to its original state of mutual commitment and faith. The repetition of the exact details is essentially God’s gift of forgiveness.

A special reading this week is Shekalim, which speaks of the obligation of every Jew to give a half-shekel to the Mishkan. This represents an act of commitment: a pledge of a 4,000-year-strong covenantal relationship between God and Israel, demonstrated in our daily lives by the giving of our “half-shekels” to build our sanctuaries — yeshivas and synagogues, day schools and outreach centers — thus bringing God within our midst. Financial commitment is also the traditional halachic form of betrothal (symbolized in the wedding ring).

Israel, betrothed by the shekel to God, had succumbed to the temptation of Amalek, substituting the temptations of gold and licentiousness for their God-groom.

The journey of the people Israel begins with commitment and love, stumbles through failure and sin, and concludes with the possibility of purification and renewal. These stages mark the path of individual and national freedom, culminating in the festival of freedom, Passover.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.